Wednesday, October 30, 2019

THE WORST WITCH By Punkin Nightshade

Punkin Nightshade
Hey, ya’ll, and welcome back to our blogpostin for The MonsterGrrls’ Thir13en For Halloween. This here is Petronella Nightshade, what am Punkin, and today I am speakin to you about somethin called The Worst Witch. For Halloween this year we have been doin somethin that Mad Doc calls Tales Of Unease, which shows how certain movies, TV shows and other things in horror and spooky stuff is comin from books and such, and The Worst Witch is one of those. This here is a book series by a lady name of Jill Murphy, what has been made into movies and television shows a bunch of times. Some folks think them Harry Potter books might have been inspired by The Worst Witch, and they may be right, cause the first one of these books came out in about 1974 and was best-sellin then, so it would of made sense if Miz J. K. Rowling (what wrote Harry Potter) had read it somewheres. People is always gettin ideas from somethin what came before them.

The Worst Witch is a story about a youngun name of Mildred Hubble, what is attendin a boardin school for magic called Miz Cackle’s Academy For Young Witches. She’s a good little girl with a good heart, but she has gotten to what’s called the awkward age, and she’s a bit clumsy, so she ends up messin up things a lot by accident, and cause of that, everbody at Miz Cackle’s think she’s the worst student there. Miz Cackle herself, what the school’s named after, is a nice woman and thinks Mildred’s goin to be all right as she goes along, but her teacher Miz Hardbroom is kind of a hard case and think she just don’t try hard enough. Even though everbody think Mildred is the worst witch, she still got her some friends at school, Maud Spellbody and Enid Nightshade (I have a cousin named Enid somewheres, but this ain’t her, so it must be a different set of Nightshades) who often end up gettin in trouble right along with her, which is all right cause younguns generally get up to didoes sometimes. There’s also another girl name of Ethel Hallow, who’s kind of a snob and don’t like nobody but herself.

Now speakin as a witch, I did kinda go to a school for awhile that was like Mildred Hubble’s, but I didn’t last too long there, and it warn’t cause everbody thought I was the worst witch or nothin, but what happened was they graduated me kind of early.* So I didn’t get a whole lot of the experiences she had, what with boardin up in a school and goin to class ever day like at a college or somethin. But Miz Murphy was born over in England, and they do them boardin schools there, so that is all right.





In the first of them books,
The Worst Witch, Mildred starts goin to the school as a first-year student. Ever first year is given a black cat, what they teach to ride on their broomstick with em, but Mildred ends up with a gray tabby cat cause there ain’t no black cats left. (I have a golden tabby named Pookie, ad he don’t ride with me, so I don’t know that this is how real witches do. The color of the cat don’t really mean nothin no way.) Anyway, as they go along with Mildred gettin in trouble here and there, she finds a bunch of other witches in the woods what are plottin against Miz Cackle and the Academy, so natural she has to save the school from em. This here shows that even though she ain’t perfect, she ain’t bad, and has got some pluck to her.

The second book, The Worst Witch Strikes Again, come out in 1980. In this one Mildred gets assigned to take care of a new first-year name of Enid Nightshade, who turns out to be a big practical joker, and Mildred gets into more trouble mostly cause of Enid. In the third book, A Bad Spell For The Worst Witch (1982), Mildred comes back to Miz Cackle’s as a new second-year student, gets into it with Ethel Hallow, and ends up gettin turned into a frog by Ethel Hallow. And this was how I knowed this was a fantasy story, cause most of the time we witches is too busy to be goin round turnin folk into frogs, and besides that particular spell is a lot harder than you think. Anyway, Mildred finds another frog out in the school’s lilypond who is actual a magician name of Algernon Rowan-Webb, what got turned into a frog by some other magician feller long ago, and so Mildred makes up her mind to save him.


In the fourth book, The Worst Witch All At Sea (1993) Mildred gets invited along with all the other second-year students out to Mr. Rowan-Webb’s home, Gloom Castle, for a holiday, but Miz Cackle tells her that she ought to replace her cat Tabby, since he ain’t a black cat like all the rest. It must be some kind of English thing that ever witch got to have a black cat, but Mildred natural don’t want to give up Tabby even if he won’t ride on the broomstick. Mildred sneaks Tabby along with her to Gloom Castle, and of course gets up to adventuresome didoes, which is natural part of these books. The fifth one, The Worst Witch Saves The Day (2005), has them bad witches from the first book comin back, and it is that the one leadin em is Miz Cackle’s sister Agatha, who looks just like her and is a twin. Agatha is jealous of Miz Cackle bein head of the Academy, and so she wants to mess everthing up by turnin everbody into a snail, and natural Mildred has to stop her. The sixth book, The Worst Witch To The Rescue (2007) has old Ethel Hallow discoverin that Mildred has come up with a spell to make animals talk for a class project, so she steals it and tries to take it as her own. The whole plot in this book is real complicated, but it comes down to Mildred havin to find a tortoise named Einstein that she made able to speak so she can prove the project was hers. There’s three other books in this series what got plots that are just as wild, and makes this a good series for folks to read.

The Worst Witch: The Movie

Now it is natural that someone would be wantin to turn this here story into a movie or some such, and so that’s just what they did. In 1986, the folks at ITV in Britain made a television movie of The Worst Witch, what was mostly based on the first book and followed it pretty close. Fairuza Balk, what had played Dorothy in the movie Return To Oz, played Mildred Hubble, and later, when she had growed up a little, she would play another witch named Nancy in a movie called The Craft. Two famous actin ladies called Diana Rigg and Charlotte Rae played Miss Hardbroom and Miss Cackle, and a real famous actin feller named Tim Curry, what had been in that Rocky Horror Picture Show, appeared as The Grand Wizard and even sung a song in that movie. A couple of years later, in 1998, them ITV folks was back at it again doin a whole TV show of The Worst Witch, what run for three series and had Georgina Sherrington and Felicity Jones playin Mildred Hubble and Ethel Hallow. This show spun off into another series in 2001 what was called Weirdsister College, and had them same two actresses playin Mildred and Ethel goin off to college to further their magical education, and it was kind of for older kids what is in high school. Another series, The New Worst Witch, had Mildred’s cousin Henrietta Hubble goin to Miz Cackle’s, and it run for two series from 2005 to 2007.

The next generation (?)
Them books are still popular enough that in 2017, a brand-new series of The Worst Witch came out, what has been produced internationally between CBBC (a brand of TV for younguns in Britain), ZDF (a German public-service broadcastin network), and Netflix. This here has been streamin on Netflix for some time now, and to my mind it’s the best of the bunch, and follows the books real close. Bella Ramsey, what has been actin on that Game Of Thrones, plays Mildred Hubble, and Clare Higgins (Mad Doc knows her from that movie Hellraiser) plays Miz Cackle in this one. It’s right good and is real well-done, so if you have been readin the books, or you ain’t read the books but want to get a notion of what it’s all about, why just fire up your streamin gadget and jump in, since everbody has got the Netflix nowadays.

So I am done tellin this tale, and blessings be on all of you for this Halloween season. We ain’t got too long left, so be sure to come back soon for our next postin for The MonsterGrrls’ Thir13en For Halloween, cause it is one thing and then another. Blessings be on you!

Sincerely,
Petronella “Punkin” Nightshade

MAD DOCTOR’S NOTE:
The Worst Witch Netflix series is still available for streaming, and the books are all available for purchase at Amazon or other fine booksellers, and probably for lending at your local library.

*Punkin holds an “honorary degree of graduation” from a prestigious witches’ school called Grungemound Academy For Young Witches, which she attended long before she began at Clearwater High School in the human world. This degree was given to her after a memorable three days at Grungemound for two reasons: one, the staff and most of the students were mortally terrified of her power as an Adept, and two, there was really nothing else they could do with a student who, because of her inborn Power, instinctively knew everything. Many of those staff who were there during those three days remember her fondly, but not without evidence of a nervous condition.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

THE FACTS IN THE CASE OF ROGER CORMAN AND EDGAR ALLAN POE By Bethany Ruthven

Bethany Ruthven
Good evening, darlings, and thank you for reading. We are almost to the end of our little Halloween soiree, and today on The MonsterGrrls’ Thir13en For Halloween, we will discuss one of my favorite writers, the revered Edgar Allan Poe. And honestly, who hasn’t brought out “The Raven” or some of the Tales Of Mystery And Imagination for perusing during the Halloween season? But specifically, we’re going to talk about Poe’s connection to a celebrated horror filmmaker: Roger Corman, who directed a cycle of eight films based on Poe’s tales from 1960 to 1965, most of which starred Vincent Price.

The author
Poe himself, of course, is our first topic. Born in Boston in 1809, Poe’s family was abandoned by his father, and his mother died soon after. Formally adopted by John and Frances Allan of Richmond, VA, Poe would often clash with his father over the cost of his education and his frequent gambling debts. He enrolled in the University of Virginia but left after a year due to lack of money, and after a quarrel with his father, he enlisted in the Army in 1827 under an assumed name. The same year would see the beginning of Poe’s literary career with a self-published book called Tamerlane And Other Poems, credited only to “A Bostonian.” From there, Poe would ultimately switch to prose, and write the tales that he is best-known for, including “The Pit And The Pendulum,” “Hop-Frog,” “The Masque Of The Red Death,” “The Murders In The Rue Morgue,” and others. Poe’s life ended in 1849, with the ultimate cause of his death being a mystery: all known medical records concerned with his death are lost.

The tales of Poe, however, would survive to inspire future generations of authors, giving rise to the modern horror and mystery genres. In 1960, the film studio American International Pictures expressed interest in turning Poe’s story “The Fall of The House Of Usher” into a feature film. Roger Corman, who had been asked to direct two black-and-white low-budget horror flicks for AIP, convinced them to let him do “Usher” instead, and give him a higher budget than normal, which allowed Corman to film in widescreen and color and develop lavish movie sets. Celebrated genre author Richard Matheson provided the script, and Vincent Price was brought on board to star as the languishing Roderick Usher. The film, titled House Of Usher, was a hit for AIP, and Corman, Price and Matheson were tapped soon afterward to create a film version of The Pit And The Pendulum in 1961. Another hit ensued for Corman and AIP, and the Poe cycle began in earnest.

House Of Usher



The Pit And The Pendulum
The next film, The Premature Burial (1962), starred Ray Milland, as Price was unavailable. Corman’s
The Premature Burial
success with the first two Poe films caused him to decide to make his own Poe film, financed through Pathe Lab, which did print work for AIP. On the first day of shooting, though, James H. Nicholson and Sam Arkoff of AIP appeared and announced to Corman that they were working together again, as they had convinced Pathe to bring the movie back to AIP by threatening to pull all of AIP’s future lab work. The Premature Burial was not as successful as its predecessors, but brought in enough money to convince AIP to continue the Poe films.

Tales Of Terror
The fourth film, Tales Of Terror (1962), was an anthology film that heralded the return of Vincent Price to the series and showcased three stories, all based on works of Poe. “Morella” told the story of a woman (Maggie Pierce) returning to her childhood home to find that her father (Vincent Price) has performed a rite of witchcraft to allow her to swap bodies with that of her dead mother (Leona Gage), so that her mother can live again. “The Black Cat” combined elements of “The Black Cat” and “The Cask Of Amontillado” and showcased Price, Peter Lorre, and Joyce Jameson in the story of the cuckolded Monsieur Herringbone (Lorre) who exacts his revenge upon pretentious wine-taster Fortunato (Price) and his wayward wife (Jameson) by walling them up in his basement wine-cellar. However, Herringbone eventually gets his when the screeching of his wife’s black cat (who was also walled up in the basement) reveals his misdeed. (You never can trust those cats, you know.) The final tale was a reading of “The Facts In The Case Of M. Valdemar,” about a dying man (Price) who employs a hypnotist (Basil Rathbone) to put him into trances to relieve his suffering, but ends up trapped between life and death when Carmichael refuses to release him from his trance so that he may finally die. Price, Lorre, Rathbone and Jameson would all eventually be reunited for Corman’s 1963 horror-comedy The Comedy Of Terrors.
The Raven

1963’s The Raven, while not exactly a filmed version of Poe’s poem, did borrow elements from the poem to tell its story. Craven, a widowed sorcerer (Vincent Price) is visited by a raven who turns out to be a transformed wizard, Dr. Bedlo (Peter Lorre), who tells him that he has seen the ghost of Craven’s wife at the castle of the evil Dr. Scarabus (Boris Karloff). Joined by Craven’s daughter Estelle (Olive Sturgess) and her paramour, Bedlo’s son Rexford (Jack Nicholson in an early role), the pair travel to Scarabus’s castle and discover that Scarabus indeed has Craven’s wife (Hazel Court), who is aiding him in a plot to gain Craven’s magical secrets. Having enjoyed the comedy of “The Black Cat” in Tales Of Terror, Corman desired to make a completely comic Poe film; hence The Raven is neither fish nor fowl, as it were.

"Edgar Allan Poe's" The Haunted Palace
1963 would also see the release of The Haunted Palace. While regarded as part of the Poe cycle by some since it uses the title of Poe’s poem, the story of the film is actually derived from H. P. Lovecraft’s novella The Case Of Charles Dexter Ward, making THP a bit of an outlier in the Poe cycle. The eponymous Ward (Vincent Price), the great-great grandson of suspected warlock Joseph Curwen (also Price), returns to his relative’s ancestral home in Arkham, Massachusetts with his wife Anne (Debra Paget) to claim his inheritance. Because of Curwen’s shenanigans with sacrifices to ancient pagan gods and such, the strangely deformed townsfolk are naturally suspicious and hostile toward the couple, but they are encouraged to stay by the palace caretaker Simon (Lon Chaney Jr., of werewolf fame) who remarks how much Ward resembles Curwen’s portrait. Obsession blooms, and it isn’t long before poor Mr. Ward is carrying on Great-Great-Granddad’s work, dragging out the old Necronomicon, resurrecting old cronies, and exacting revenge on the town of Arkham. The eventual denouement results in the defeat of the evil threat and the destruction of the Haunted Palace via the same stock footage of Usher’s burning home, which the ever-thrifty Corman used and reused repeatedly (along with reused and redressed sets) as a cost-cutting measure.

The Masque Of The Red Death


1964 brought The Masque Of The Red Death, stylistically on a par with House Of Usher. Combining elements of Poe’s story “Hop-Frog” as a subplot within the overall tale of Red Death, we see the tale of hedonistic and unscrupulous nobleman Prince Prospero (Vincent Price), who responds to the threat of plague in a local village by ordering the village burnt down and having several members of nobility sequestered at his castle, which is stocked with food, wine and entertainments, some of which are provided by two dwarf dancers, Esmerelda (Verina Greenlaw) and Hop-Toad (Skip Martin). As Hop-Toad enacts revenge on the boorish Alfredo (Patrick Magee) for striking Esmerelda by tricking him into dressing as an ape, soaking his costume with brandy and setting it aflame (as per the tale) and Prospero prepares sacrifices to Satan, the Red Death (an uncredited John Westbrook) appears, and the disbelieving Prospero is led into a danse macabre as Red Death claims Prospero and all his company. Charles Beaumont, the well-known contributor to Twilight Zone, provided the script, with R. Wright Campbell working in the Hop-Frog subplot.

Tomb Of Ligeia

The Poe cycle would come to a close in 1965 with Tomb Of Ligeia, telling the story of widower Verden Fell (Vincent Price) who is haunted by the memories of his blasphemous and atheistic wife Ligeia (Elizabeth Shepherd) to the point that he impulsively marries a woman (Elizabeth Shepherd) who not only resembles Ligeia but is betrothed to his friend Christopher Gough (John Westbrook). Madness and mayhem are the order of the day as Fell, troubled by nocturnal visions and the presence of a sinister black cat who may be inhabited by Ligeia’s ghost, succumbs to distress and resolves to ultimately face his wife’s evil spirit in a final showdown that could cost him his life. Though the film does appear to suffer from padding (its corresponding story is one of Poe’s shortest tales), Tomb Of Ligeia was a fitting end to the cycle of Poe films, which are still regarded as stars in both Corman’s and Price’s bodies of work.

And so we come to the end, alas. Do return soon for our next Tale Of Unease in The MonsterGrrls’ Thir13en For Halloween, and don’t tarry, because we are coming to the end, and all this will be… nevermore!

Regards,
Bethany Ruthven

Our Mr. Price displays his usual charm, wit and sophistication.  We love you, Uncle Vinnie.

TELLING TALES FROM THE DARKSIDE By Harriet Von Lupin

Harriet Von Lupin
Hi there! Gosh, it’s just about time! Harriet Von Lupin, your raving reporter here for The MonsterGrrls’ Thir13en For Halloween, and today we’re going to talk about another of these anthology thingies. This one is one that Mad Doc remembers from watching it on TV, when he was like our age. It’s called Tales From The Darkside, and it must have been pretty good, ‘cause there was a movie too, and we’re also gonna talk about that!

TFTD's title card
Tales From The Darkside got started because the movie Creepshow was successful (I talked about that one here!), and so people in TV got talking about about a TV series. Because Warner Bros. Studios owned some stuff in Creepshow, the guys at Laurel Entertainment (who produced Creepshow) decided to go in another direction, and came up with Tales From The Darkside. The new name kind of went along with what Creepshow was, which was a live-action horror comic. Even though TFTD wasn’t comic-booky like Creepshow, the stories in it were still kind of like that, with bad guys who did bad things and then paid for it through supernatural means. George Romero, who had directed Creepshow and some other famous horror movies (hi there, Night Of The Living Dead!) executive-produced the series with Richard P. Rubinstein (meaning they had something to do with everything!)

Like other famous anthology series such as Twilight Zone, Thriller, and The Outer Limits, TFTD had famous writers supplying stories for episode scripts. Both of Stephen King’s short stories “Word Processor Of The Gods” and “Sorry, Right Number” got turned into TFTD episodes, along with other stories by Frederik Pohl, Clive Barker, Robert Bloch (boy, he sure turns up a lot), Harlan Ellison, John Cheever and Michael McDowell. TFTD was a hit with horror fans, and ran for four seasons in weekly syndication from Tribune Broadcasting, with a lot of loyal viewers (even though they aired it after midnight!). After TFTD wound up, a similar series called Monsters, also produced by Laurel Entertainment and Richard Rubinstein, came out, and it was a hit too! (Maybe we’ll talk about that one a little later!)

The poster for TFTD: The Movie
In 1990, Tales From The Darkside: The Movie came out, and because both Romero and King were involved (one of the stories was scripted by Romero from a story by King) a lot of people started calling this one the unofficial third Creepshow movie. It starts out with a modern-day witch (Debbie Harry) preparing to, um, prepare a kid she has captured as the main course for a dinner party. (Hey, y’all, this is Punkin, and I’m here to tell you that don’t no witches eat no children. That’s just a fib. --P. Nightshade) To stall for time, the kid (Matthew Lawrence) tells her three stories from a book she gave him, called Tales From The Darkside.

The first one is a story called “Lot 249,” based on a short story by Arthur Conan Doyle, who wrote all those Sherlock Holmes stories. In it, a grad student (Steve Buscemi) has been cheated by two other students (Robert Sedgwick and Julianne Moore) out of a scholarship, and even framed for theft! So he does what any grad student would do in his situation: he sends a mummy after ‘em. Like, it’s even there in the university class catalog. “How To Raise The Dead For Fun And Profit.” (Ha! That’s a joke!)

The star of "The Cat From Hell"
The second one is called “The Cat From Hell,” and this is the one that Romero and King did. In it, a really rich old guy in a wheelchair (William Hickey) calls a professional hitman (David Johansen) in for an unusual job: kill a black cat, which the old guy believes has already murdered the rest of his family. See, the old guy runs a pharmaceutical company, which killed about 5,000 black cats through drug testing, and he thinks the black cat’s trying to get revenge. Well, you can’t tell about cats (believe me, buddy, I’m a werewolf and I know), but the hitman takes the hire, since the old guy’s offering a BIG paycheck for killing the cat. You probably can already figure out that this isn’t going to go so well…

The gargoyle from "Lover's Vow"
The last one, “Lover’s Vow,” written by Michael McDowell, is kinda sad even though it’s scary. It’s both a love story and a horror story, and it’s about this failed artist (James Remar) who witnesses a gargoyle killing a victim. The gargoyle agrees not to kill the artist guy if he swears to never tell anyone what he’s seen, or try to tell people what the gargoyle looks like. (Of course, the artist guy agrees because he doesn’t want to die.) Soon after, Artist Guy meets this beautiful woman (Rae Dawn Chong) who becomes his girlfriend, and after that things start turning around for him—his art becomes really successful, and he starts becoming this rising star in the art world. But he can’t get the gargoyle out of his mind, and, well, he’s an artist. And all those bad memories have to go somewhere, so how long is it gonna be before the secret is out? And of course, at the end of the movie, we have to find out what happens to the witch and the kid… is it gonna be a happy ending, or not?

Both the series and the movie are really cool horror stories, and if you can find them on DVD or the streaming thingys, they’re perfect Halloween viewing. And that’s it for me, but we’re gonna have more stuff going on in the next post for The MonsterGrrls’ Thir13en For Halloween! OWW-WOOOOO!!!

Love,
Harriet Von Lupin

MAD DOCTOR’S NOTE: Tales From The Darkside (both series and movie) are available on DVD from Amazon, and TFTD: The Movie is currently streaming on Amazon Prime for your viewing fright. You’re welcome.

"Hey, you wanna hear a story?"

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

RETURNING TO GREEN KNOWE By John Rose

The Mad Doctor
Welcome back to The MonsterGrrls’ Thir13en For Halloween. Today we’re discussing Lucy M. Boston and her Green Knowe series of books, which feature an entirely different kind of haunted house.

Lucy M. Boston
Born in Southport, Lancashire to a typically affluent middle-class Victorian family, Boston grew up a Wesleyan Methodist, and had a father who had a passion and appreciation of the aesthetic side of life, which awakened Boston’s own passions. Through him, she developed passions for music, art and nature. When her father died, she was sent to school at Westmoreland, and stayed close to her mother’s family home at Arnside, which introduced her to English country life and helped her to develop an awareness of plants and gardens. Boston moved on to Somerville College, Oxford in the first months of 1914 and WWI, and left college in her second term to go to war as a volunteer nurse.

After the war, Lucy married a distant cousin named Harold in Woodstock, near Oxford. Though the union went south in 1935, she had one son, Peter Shakerley Boston. Following the failure of her marriage, Lucy traveled in France, Italy, Austria and Hungary, visiting Europe’s musical capitals and studying painting in Vienna. She returned to England in 1937 and took rooms in Cambridge to be close to her son Peter, who was now 19 and an undergraduate. Hearing that a house was for sale in the nearby village of Hemingford Gray, she remembered a seemingly derelict house she had seen there in 1915 and jumped to the conclusion that this was the house for sale. Upon her arrival and announcement that she wished to buy the house, she found that the owners had only that morning decided to sell, and that the house advertised for sale was a different one. She never did find out which house was the one advertised.
The Manor at Hemingford Grey, Boston's home

After renovating the ancient Norman Manor house, which had been built in 1130, she settled there, continuing the house’s restoration and planting gardens. This house, dubbed the Manor, would be the focus and inspiration for her creativity for the rest of her life, and would eventually be known as Green Knowe. In 1954, at the age of sixty-two, Lucy M. Boston would write The Children Of Green Knowe, the first of six books about an old manor house in the English countryside that is inhabited by the spirits of people who have lived there in past times. Illustrated by her son Peter, the Green Knowe series is fondly remembered, and is still around today to delight and thrill young readers.

In The Children Of Green Knowe, Toseland “Tolly” Oldknow goes on a holiday visit to his grandmother, Linnet Oldknow, at Green Knowe, a manor house dating from the Norman Conquest that has been continually inhabited by Tolly’s ancestors, the d’Aulneaux family, later called Oldknow. During his stay, Tolly dsicovers a painting of three children and some of their personal artifacts, and begins to encounter the spirits of three of his ancestors: Toby (an earlier Toseland), Alexander, and an earlier Linnet who lived in the reign of Charles II.

In the second book in the series, The Treasure Of Green Knowe (1958), Tolly returns for the Easter holidays to find the painting gone to an exhibit, and at risk of being sold to pay for roof repairs to Green Knowe. He also finds Mrs. Oldknow repairing a patchwork quilt, which allows Tolly to come into contact with the spirits of a blind girl named Susan Oldknow and her family, leading them on a search to find her mother Maria Oldknowe’s jewels.

In the third book, The River At Green Knowe (1959), Green Knowe is let for the summer to a dotty archaeologist named Doctor Biggin and her friend Miss Bun. Along for the ride are Biggin’s niece Ida and two “displaced” refugee children, Oskar and Ping. An exploration of an island-strewn river flowing past Green Knowe reveals such things as flying horses, a giant who wishes to join a circus, and a Bronze Age moon ceremony. Through it all, it is made clear that Green Knowe protects its inhabitants, especially those who are children.

The fourth book in the series, A Stranger At Green Knowe (1961), has Ping returning to Green Knowe to stay with Mrs Oldknow and also telling the story of an escaped gorilla named Hanno, with whom Ping develops a bond during a visit to a zoo prior to his visit to the house. Hanno escapes and makes his way to Green Knowe, where Ping befriends him. This book would be awarded the 1961 Carnegie Medal.

Book five, An Enemy At Green Knowe (1964) is darker than its previous brethren. Ping and Tolly hear from Mrs. Oldknow the story of Dr. Vogel, a necromancer and occultist who came to a bad end at Green Knowe centuries before. Soon after, Melanie Powers, a professor and an occultist herself, comes looking for Vogel’s papers, with interests that are not academic, leading to an eventual confrontation between Green Knowe and the forces of evil. The sixth and final book, The Stones Of Green Knowe (1976) would delve deeper into Green Knowe’s past, telling the story of Roger d’Aulneaux, the son of the house’s original builder, who discovers two throne-like stones that allow him to visit the time of the Conquest and the later periods of Linnet, Susan, and Tolly.

Lucy Boston’s Green Knowe series is a wonderful mix of fantasy and scares, with a continuing generational theme. Though Green Knowe is most definitely haunted, Boston sensed that haunted houses could be eerie without being malevolent, and the series has enough creepy events and villains to keep it from being saccharine, making this a perfect literary place to visit for the Halloween season.

Come back soon for the next post in The MonsterGrrls’ Thir13en For Halloween, as we continue our Tales Of Unease…

MAD DOCTOR’S NOTE: The entire Green Knowe series is available for purchase at Amazon.com (click the links for each book), or for lending at your local library.

Friday, October 18, 2019

A MONSTERGRRLS HALLOWEEN SPECIAL: STEPHEN KING'S CHRISTINE By John Rose

A MonsterGrrls Halloween Special
It wouldn’t be Halloween without a few extra treats and surprises, so in this spirit we present an extra post for the season, A MonsterGrrls Halloween Special. Here we examine the Stephen King novel and John Carpenter film, Christine.

Cars, and their relationships with humans, are not exempt from speculative fiction. From the 1944 sci-fi story “Killdozer!” by Theodore Sturgeon, to the Twilight Zone episodes “You Drive” (1964 original series) and “Joy Ride” (1987 revival series), to sentient racing Volkswagen Herbie in Disney’s The Love Bug, to the 1977 horror film The Car, vehicles possessed by otherworldly forces, whether malign or benevolent, are a well-known trope in speculative fiction. Which brings us to Christine, both a 1983 horror novel by Stephen King, and a horror film of the same year by John Carpenter.

The book
King had dealt with the idea of sentient homicidal vehicles before in his 1973 short story “Trucks” (which eventually became his one foray into film directing, 1986’s Maximum Overdrive) but in Christine he went whole-hog, or full-custom as the case may be. The novel concerns one Arnie Cunningham, a put-upon and lonely teen whose one friend is the comparatively normal Dennis Guilder, who also narrates the story. Spotting a dilapidated 1958 Plymouth Fury while riding home with Dennis from work, Arnie makes Dennis stop, and discovers that it belongs to an old man named Roland LeBay, who sells Arnie the car for $250. Dennis, who doesn’t like the look of the car to start with, likes it even less when he sits inside it and has a frightening vision of the car and its surroundings as they were when it was new. Undaunted in his quest to restore the car, Arnie brings it to a do-it-yourself garage run by Will Darnell, who is suspected of using the garage as a front for smuggling. As Arnie works on the car, he becomes more and more withdrawn and cynical, but also more confident and self-assured. Christine, however, almost seems to be mysteriously repairing herself. LeBay eventually dies, and Dennis meets LeBay’s younger brother George, who fills him in on LeBay’s history of anger and violence and the back story of Christine: LeBay’s daughter died in the car from choking, while his wife committed suicide in the car through carbon monoxide poisioning. Dennis also observes that Arnie is becoming more and more like LeBay, and that the car is taking over more and more of Arnie’s life. With the advent of a girl named Leigh Cabot who begins dating Arnie and nearly dies in the car the same way that LeBay’s daughter did (leading to the relationship’s end when Leigh figures out that she is competing with the car for Arnie), and a number of car-related deaths around town that point to Christine but turn up no evidence, Dennis and Leigh, who are now lovers, eventually realize that Christine is possessed by LeBay’s spirit, and hatch a desperate plan to try to destroy Christine and save Arnie.

Many did not know what to make of Christine when it first came out, but it very quickly became a favorite book among King fans due to its strange juxtaposition of love story and spirit-possession horror. While there’s quite a build-up before the plot really thickens, it eventually pays off big, in such scenes as when Arnie, fully aware of Christine’s self-repairing abilities, pushes her through Darnell’s garage after bully Buddy Repperton and his gang have trashed her. In a thoroughly creepy scene, Christine regenerates: dents pop out, cracks in glass disappear, and paint damage disappears as if never there to begin with.

The eternal... quadrangle (?)
These scenes would eventually be realized in movie form. Hollywood had already come calling for King’s work, and producer Richard Kobritz , who previously produced the Salem’s Lot miniseries, had purchased the rights to Christine after King sent him a manuscript copy. Kobritz’s first choice for director was John Carpenter, who was initially not available, but delays on other projects freed him to work on Christine. According to Carpenter, he directed the film as a job rather than a personal project, and at the time he was still smarting from the critical backlash over his previous film, the now-classic The Thing (1982).  It may have been because of this disinterest that Carpenter altered one significant detail of the story: in the novel, Christine was possessed by the spirit of Roland LeBay, while in the film, the car’s evil manifested on the day it was built, as seen in the opening scene where two line workers fall prey to Christine as she rolls off the assembly line. Also, Roland LeBay does not appear in the film; instead, his brother George (who appears in the film to be as disagreeable as Roland, but somewhat milder; perhaps someone tried to combine both characters here) sells the car to Arnie.

She's a bad, bad girl...
Cast included Keith Gordon (who went on to appear in the 1986 Rodney Dangerfield vehicle Back To School) as Arnie, John Stockwell (who appeared in 1985’s sci-fi cult-classic My Science Project), Alexandra Paul as Leigh Cabot, and character actor Roberts Blossom as George LeBay, brother of the deceased Roland. Harry Dean Stanton appears as Detective Rudy Junkins, who tries unsuccessfully to pin Christine’s murders on Arnie, and William Ostrander appears as vengeful bully Buddy Repperton. A number of cars appeared as Christine, but few were actual Plymouth Furies due to the car’s small production number, and instead Plymouth Belvedere and Savoy models, dressed to look like a Fury, were used. The regeneration scenes, while not initially planned for the film, were shot in post-production at Carpenter’s decision. The film has since become a cult classic.

Christine remains a favorite among fans of King and Carpenter due to its demonstration of the human fascination with the American automobile and the romance surrounding it, something we are all privy to, and sometimes prey to. Even if a car isn’t possessed by a malevolent spirit, you still have to be careful. Because sometimes, without any warning, it might just turn on you.

Be sure to return for our next post for The MonsterGrrls’ Thir13en For Halloween. But in the meantime, be careful out on the road in the dark…

MAD DOCTOR’S NOTE: Christine (both film and book) are available for purchase on Amazon.com, and can be rented for streaming with Prime Video.

Special thanks to Rose Marie Machario, who suggested this post.

You better watch out, or she'll run you down...

FRIDAY THE 13TH: THE SERIES By John Rose

The Mad Doctor
"Now With No Added Jason"
Welcome back to The MonsterGrrls’ Thir13en For Halloween. Today in our Tales Of Unease we’re taking a look at Friday The 13th: The Series—not the movie series, but the TV series that ran in first-run syndication from 1987 to 1990. Though it has no connection to the Friday The 13th movies, FT13 The Series has a devoted fan following.

With series like Amazing Stories, Tales From The Darkside, and the 1980’s revival of The Twilight Zone, anthology series experienced a renaissance period during the '80’s. Producer Frank Mancuso, Jr., who had actually produced the Friday The 13th film series from FT13th Part 2 all the way to Jason Takes Manhattan, co-created the TV series with Larry B. Williams under the title of The 13th Hour.

Mancuso’s original intent was to utilize the idea of Friday The 13th itself, as a symbol of bad luck and curses. Interestingly enough, Mancuso had hoped to do this idea in the FT13 movies themselves, but like John Carpenter’s Halloween, the masked serial killer Jason Voorhees became so popular among moviegoers that he became the franchise, and the anthology film series idea was scrapped. While the creators desired to use Jason Voorhees’ trademark hockey mask in the TV series (a rumor surfaced that a planned ending for the show would involve a plot to retrieve Jason’s hockey mask itself), there was never any serious intention to tie FT13 The Series to the movies.  The creators eventually decided to call the series Friday The 13th because Mancuso believed it would better sell the show to networks.

The Un-Scooby Gang
FT13 The Series revolves around cousins-by-marriage Micki Foster (Louise Robey, who goes by “Robey” in the credits) and Ryan Dallion (John D. LeMay), who discover that they have inherited an antique shop originally owned by their uncle Lewis Vendredi (which means “Friday” in French), who died in a mysterious fire. The two decide not to keep the store and sell off most of its antiques before they are stopped by a former friend of Lewis’s, Jack Marshak (Chris Wiggins), a former stage magician—and an occultist. The cousins then learn the awful truth: Vendredi had made a deal with Satan to be immortal and obtain wealth and power in exchange for selling the antiques, which are all cursed. With Jack’s help, the cousins must find and return each of the antiques to a vault located beneath the store, which is the only thing that can contain the antiques’ power. The spirit of Lewis (R. G. Armstrong) would occasionally
Evil Uncle Lewis being evil
return throughout the series to try to stop the cousins, making him the show’s recurring villain.

As in most anthology shows, the stories were a series of morality plays, with the cursed item featured as a McGuffin to move along the plot. However, there were also recurring story arcs with each of the main characters, and the nature of the show meant not only a hefty body count, but also that the continuous battle to recover the cursed antiques took its toll on Micki, Ryan and Jack as the series progressed. Ryan was eventually written out of the show after being transformed into a small child at the beginning of the third season; his replacement was Johnny Ventura (Steve Monarque) a “kid from the streets” who became an on-again-off-again love interest for Micki. The show was abruptly cancelled in 1990 without warning; the cast were informed while filming Season 3’s twentieth episode that the show was ending, and there was no chance to film more episodes, or even scenes for that episode, that would provide closure to the series.

You can't always trust a snow globe
Though some have decried its inconsistency in episodes, the show was a solid production and an interesting experiment, which has had an inspirational effect on other shows that came after it. The recovery of cursed relics to prevent evil is not an uncommon trope in horror, and it has turned up in series as diverse as Buffy The Vampire Slayer, The X-Files, Supernatural, and even The 13 Ghosts Of Scooby-Doo (whose entire plot revolved around a quest to retrap 13 evil ghosts who had been accidentally released from a cursed chest). The popular SyFy series Warehouse 13 has been called a virtual retread of this series by some, despite there being enough differences in the two to make up for it, but few can deny FT13’s influence on that series. Regardless of how you feel about it, FT13 The Series is very much a part of the TV-anthology horror landscape.

Be sure to return for our next installment of The MonsterGrrls’ Thir13en For Halloween. We can’t say you won’t have bad luck if you don’t, but you never know...

MAD DOCTOR'S NOTE: Friday The 13th: The Series is available for purchase on Amazon.com, both in individual-season and complete-series DVD sets. 

The (almost) last cursed item...

Thursday, October 17, 2019

WELCOME TO THE CREEPSHOW! By Harriet Von Lupin

Harriet Von Lupin
The poster
Hi there, horror gang! Looks like it’s time for Halloween again! This is Harriet Von Lupin, your raving reporter for The MonsterGrrls’ Thir13en For Halloween, and this year we’re doing something a little different—Tales Of Unease, talking about books, anthologies, and other stuff that brings a literary dimension to horror. Today we’ve got a doozy of a post, about a really cool movie brought to you by two of the biggest names in horror: Stephen King and George Romero’s Creepshow!

Back in the Sixties and Seventies, a movie studio called Amicus was doing anthology movies like The House That Dripped Blood, From Beyond The Grave, and Asylum, which were composed of a bunch of little short stories all hung together on a common theme. When King and Romero got together after trying to work out a movie of King’s novel The Stand, they hit on doing something original, and worked up an anthology picture of five different Stephen King stories, which King titled Creepshow. Just like me and Bethany—great minds think alike! (Darlings, Harriet isn’t really clear on how that works. --B. Ruthven)

Anyway, both King and Romero had been influenced by those old EC Comics from the 1950’s, like Tales From The Crypt and Vault Of Horror. (By the way, Amicus did those as films too!) Those comics had spooky hosts like the Crypt Keeper and the Old Witch, who told horror stories about bad people who got their comeuppance through supernatural means. (Boy, I’m getting better at these big words!) In his screenplay for Creepshow, King created a framing device with a little kid (Joe Hill, who’s King’s son!) who was being hassled by his mean dad (Tom Atkins) for reading a horror comic called Creepshow (natch!) whose host is The Creep. For the movie, Romero and King got one of the original EC artists, Jack Kamen, to draw all the fun comic book stuff and illustrations you see in the movie! (Super-cool!)

Ol' Nate's lookin' for cake!
The stories in Creepshow begin with “Father’s Day,” about a dead guy, Nathan Grantham (Jon Lormer), whose family all gathers for a Father’s Day dinner seven years after Grantham got bumped off by his own daughter (Viveca Lindfors) for killing his daughter’s fiance. When Bedelia goes to visit the grave, Grantham’s corpse comes back to life, because he wants his Father’s Day cake! (Don’t feel bad about what happens to Bedelia’s family, gang, because they’re all real jerks!)

Poor old Jordy Verrill
In the second story, “The Lonesome Death Of Jordy Verrill,” King himself plays the title character (he’d already acted in Romero’s film Knightriders), a not-too-bright yokel-type who runs afoul of a meteor that lands in his back yard. Just like in those old ‘50s sci-fi films, green gook comes out of the meteor and starts growing, quickly turning Verrill and his farmhouse into an outer-space plant farm!

Verrill kinda doesn’t deserve what happens to him, even though you shouldn’t fool around with meteors. But the guy in the next story, “Something To Tide You Over,” kinda does. He’s this rich jerk named Richard Vickers (Leslie Nielsen) who’s got an unhappy wife named Becky (Gaylen Ross) who’s taken up with another guy, Harry Wentworth (Ted Danson), so he kills both of them by burying them in the sand on the beach, and watching them drown while the tide comes in on closed-circuit TV! But this is Creepshow, so it isn’t long before the drowned corpses of Becky and Harry come back to get their revenge!

What's that thing in "The Crate"??
But probably the best story in this movie is the next one, called “The Crate.” It’s about a university professor (Hal Holbrook) who finds a crate in a stairwell with a really hungry monster locked inside! (Hey, the crate came from the Antarctic, and it’s been under there for a long time, so you’d be hungry too if you had to wait that long!) However, the professor’s got a real jerk of a wife (Adrienne Barbeau) who stays drunk all the time and says mean things about him to other people, so he ends up being embarrassed a lot--even in front of the other professors at the university!  But after he finds the crate, it isn’t long before he’s figuring out a way to get rid of her—and feed the crate-critter a little snack as well!

The last one’s the creepiest story! It’s called “They’re Creeping Up On You,” and it’s about a mean old businessman named Upson Pratt (E.G. Marshall) who stays cooped up in his apartment all the time, and treats people like dirt, and absolutely hates bugs—so much that his apartment’s fixed up like an anti-bug fortress. But when there’s a city-wide blackout, where are all the cockroaches in the city going to hang out? Three guesses!

This film’s really cool, and it’s no wonder that it’s a Halloween favorite with a lot of people. There was a second movie, Creepshow 2, and Mad Doc talks about that one a little bit here. And there was a third film that kind of sucked, mainly because King and Romero weren’t involved at all! But if you guys are into this streaming TV thing, the Shudder channel is doing a Creepshow TV series that’s just come out! Hey, maybe we’ll get some more spooks and kooks from the Creep after all!

And so I’m done! But don’t forget to come back for the next installment of The MonsterGrrls’ Thir13en For Halloween, ‘cause we’re just getting started and there’s a lot more cool stuff coming! ‘Bye now!

Love,
Harriet Von Lupin

MAD DOCTOR’S NOTE: Creepshow (and its dorky but fun little brother Creepshow 2) are both available for purchase at Amazon, or for rental on Amazon Prime Video, while the new Creepshow series can be seen on Shudder.